The 2007 Great North Run - Race Preview
by Sharon Ekstrom
On Sunday, September 30, 2007 eyes will be on Newcastle, England where the Great North Run will see its twenty-seventh year. The Great North Run is the largest half marathon in the world with about 50,000 participants and a list of champions that is a who's who of distance running: Paula Radcliffe, Paul Tergat, Moses Tanui, Hendrick Ramaala, Tegla LaRoupe, Grete Waitz, Ingrid Kristiansen and a host of others... The 2007 race is no exception with the line-up including World Record Holder Sammy Wanjiru (KEN), World Record Holder Paula Radcliffe (GBR) and Dathan Ritzenhein (USA).
In addition to those in attendance, there will be some notable absences: 2006 defending champions Hendrick Ramaala (RSA) and Berhane Adere (ETH) will not be returning. Although no formal announcements were forthcoming about these absences, we know that Ramaala has had a string of recent poor showings - a 12th place finish at the New York City Half-Marathon and a 27th place finish at the World Championships Marathon - and is signed up for the November New York City Marathon New York City Marathon. 2007 winner Adere is scheduled to defend her Chicago Marathon title. 2006 women's runner-up Benita Johnson is also scheduled for Chicago - working to better her third place finish there in 2006.
A Wanjiru Hat-Trick?
Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) is the odds-on favorite to win the 2007 Great North Run and will be seeking to set a new course and possibly world record. Debuting at the Half-Marathon as a 19 year-old at the 2005 Rotterdam Half-Marathon Wanjiru set a new world record of 59:16, beating Paul Tergat's previous record by just one second. Wanjiru's record was short lived, as - four months later - Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) broke the 59 minute mark (58:55) at the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon.
In 2007, Wanjiru reclaimed his Half Marathon World Record with a 58:53 finish at the Ras Al Khaimah International Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates and improved his World Record one month later at The Hague Half Marathon with a time of 58:33, setting the bar higher for other runners. Going into the Great North Run, Wanjiru holds the two fastest Half-Marathon finishes of all time and only two others - Haile Gebresallisie and Patrick Makau have broken 59 minutes.
At the top levels of elite athletics, there exist a few who compete on another level - who race against the clock and may not find a worthy opponent on the course. Wanjiru has said that he plans to break the 59:05 course record (and world best at the time) set in 2005 by Zersenay Tadesse (ERI). Tadesse won the 2007 Rotterdam Half Marathon tying Wanjiru's 2005 course record. The two were to go head-to-head at the 2007 Great Manchester Run 10K, but Wanjiru had to withdraw due to visa problems. At the Great North Run, Wanjiru will have the opportunity to run against Tadesse's record, if not Tadesse himself. The other top competitor we wish to see against Wanjiru, Haile Gebresallissie will be running on the same day as Wanjiru, but seeking a different world record at the Berlin Marathon.
In the Half-Marathon, the progression of faster times has become increasingly notable. In the first three-quarters of 2007 leading up to the Great North Run, sixteen men had already achieved a sub one hour finish. As a comparison, nine men finished under one hour in all of 2006, and eight were under this mark in 2005.
Return of the Fastest Woman in the World - Paula Radcliffe
Paula Radcliffe (GBR) set the Half-Marathon World Record (1:05:40) at the 2003 Great North Run. Radcliffe, the holder of multiple world championship titles and world records at the Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10K and more, has been absent from racing for the past twenty-one months. Following a difficult childbirth in January 2007, Radcliffe experienced setbacks getting back into competition - a stress fracture to her left sacrum and canceled scheduled racing appearances including the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. The Great North Run will be Radcliffe's return to racing and a test of her fitness level as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijng approach.
But is she still the fastest woman in the world? Many witnessed Radcliffe's disappointment and frustration as she dropped out of the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens and followed up with a poor 10,000m. Despite the setback, Radcliffe rebounded to win the 2004 New York City Marathon a few months later. As she makes her way to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, expect Radcliffe to show the same fortitude and spirit as she returns to racing and looks to redeem herself at the next Olympics. The Great North Run will be her first test.
The Rise of America's New Talent
Dathan Ritzenhein (USA) fairly new to the distance running scene has been one of America's rising stars. In 2006, Ritzenhein debuted in the half marathon at the Great North Run and finished in 61:25 and followed up with at 2:14:01 Marathon debut a few months later at the New York City Marathon.
Plagued by a recent past of stress fractures and foot injuries, Ritzenhein has had a number of personal bests in 2007 including a first place finish at the Healthy Kidney 10K (28:08) and a 5000m best (13:16.06) at the Flanders Cup 5000. As the 2008 USA Men's Olympic Trials approaches, Ritzenhein who has been overshadowed by other Americans (incl. Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman and others) returns to serious long distance competition starting with Great North Run.
On the day before the Great North Run's Half Marathon event organizers hold an elite 3K run. In attendance will be returning champion Craig Mottram (AUS) who will go head-to-head against Bernard Lagat (USA). Mottram has multiple Australian records. Lagat is the American record holder at the 3000m and is the reigning World Champion at the 1500 meter and 5000 meter distances. The competition at the 3K will be an exciting prelude to the main event.
The BUPA Great North Run will be televised in the UK from 9:30AM to 1:30PM on BBC ONE on Sunday September 30, 2007. A special highlights program will be broadcast on BBC TWO from 6:05PM to 6:45PM later in the day. MarathonGuide.com is planning to make available highlights in the weeks after the race.